Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. M.C. Parnell:
That regulations under the Development Act 1993 concerning assessment of significant developments, made on 14 August 2014 and laid on the table of this council on 16 September 2014, be disallowed.
(Continued from 12 November 2014.)
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 19:47 :13 ): I rise to speak on the motion of the Hon. Mark Parnell. In August this year the planning minister gazetted changes to the planning regulations, the Development (Assessment of Significant Developments) Variation Regulation 2014 and, as we know, the Hon. Mark Parnell, in late September, moved to disallow those regulations.
By way of background, in July the Premier announced that Mr Jim Hallion, chief executive of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, had been appointed Coordinator-General, and his role had expanded to include the private sector development coordination. The Office of the Coordinator-General is to assist developers with projects valued at over $3 million to move through any blockages across all levels of government.
It is interesting that we talk about all levels of government; I was fortunate enough to be at lunch today—
The Hon. G.A. Kandelaars: Not another one.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: It was a very good lunch; the federal Minister for Communications was the guest speaker. However, I was sitting next to some people who were involved in a marina development and marina activities in Port Lincoln, and they said it had been fortnightly phone calls to the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure for some nine months to get the transfer of ownership of one of the marina berths to someone else. I think that is just symptomatic of 12 years of Labor government; they simply do not understand.
However, the Coordinator-General was appointed to assist developers with projects valued over $3 million to move through the blockages across all levels of government. The regulations in question prescribe the Development Assessment Commission (DAC) as the planning authority for development that is considered by the Coordinator-General to be of economic significance to the state. To be eligible, projects need to have a construction value over $3 million, including multiple projects by the same proponent that have a combined value exceeding $3 million.
This reform is targeted at commercial and mixed use development but it is not clear if residential development is to be excluded. I note that just on the northern side of Scotch College, and I am sure you are familiar with that, Mr President, there is a new house being built and I suspect that it is worth more than $3 million; it is quite a large structure.
The Hon. T.T. Ngo: Is that the President's house?
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: No, it is not the President's. I do not even know who the person is but when we talk about commercial development over $3 million, there are now residential developments that will exceed $3 million popping up all over Adelaide.
Should a project be called in under section 20 of schedule 10 of the regulations, the relevant council will be provided with six weeks to formally comment on the proposal. In brief, the Coordinator-General role is supported by the following changes: changes to the Development Regulations 2008 to enable the Coordinator-General to assign the DAC as the planning authority for certain development projects of economic significance over $3 million; and expansion of DPTI's planning division case management team as senior case managers allocated to each proponent, and I think that is a significant step in the right direction. Often proponents really do not know the way through government, and to have somebody there to guide them through and be their case manager, if you like, is a sensible move.
The establishment of a senior government task force is also one of the changes. The task force includes senior 'decision-makers' from key land use agencies used to address blockages that may be occurring within the state government agencies. The minister has also delegated authority to the Coordinator-General to use the existing 'call in' powers for assessments that have exceeded the statutory time frames as per section 34 of the Development Act 1993 and section 41 of the Development Regulations 2008. This involves applications lodged with local government to be transferred over to DAC and this approach will still involve the assessment against existing zoning in the relevant council development plan.
The LGA and council have commented that the delays tend to be with other government agencies for not getting their referral reports in on time, and they question whether changing the primary decision-maker will cause these referral agencies to be more efficient. Since the introduction of the new planning reforms, 100 proposals have been referred to the Coordinator-General for assistance, including three projects that have been approved by councils under DPTI's case management, four projects that have been called in by the Coordinator-General for assessment for the DAC, 63 projects that have been referred to the Coordinator-General for consideration, and 30 project proposals that are currently under investigation.
Recently Messenger newspapersreported that the Coordinator-General had removed Onkaparinga council planning powers from a proposed $1.8 million service station redevelopment grouped with other On the Run developments in Aldinga, and the council's DAP had previously rejected the development in February. The LGA has questioned whether a petrol station is economically significant to the point that it warrants this special approval process.
During parliamentary estimates, my colleague Steven Griffiths, the member for Goyder, asked questions of minister Rau regarding the role of the Coordinator-General. His response was that such an initiative would provide a much-needed level of consistency within South Australia's planning system. He indicated that potential developers including ALDI, were frustrated with different planning rules from council to council which are apparently hampering investment in our state.
In liaising with the LGA, Steven Griffiths received extensive feedback predominantly with concerns about the $3 million threshold and the lack of consultation undertaken within local government. Unsurprisingly from the state Labor government, little information was provided to the LGA prior to the regulations being gazetted.
Additionally the LGA was initially advised by DPTI that there would be a sunset clause that would see the regulations expire at the end of the year. Unfortunately that did not occur. These are certainly familiar concerns and ones which I heard a lot throughout the time that I was shadow minister for planning. It was often that the LGA was left out of the loop, and perhaps it is a shame that while you were minister for local government, sir, you did not perhaps force the government to include them a little more in some of those consultation processes.
The LGA also has concerns that the government includes multiple projects by the same proponent with a combined value exceeding $3 million to be called in by the Coordinator-General. Legal advice provided to the LGA has confirmed the view that this is not permissible under the regulations. We have been advised that the LGA has written to the minister seeking some clarification on this point.
Additionally, the LGA sought clarification on the other matters, such as (amongst others), how this work aligns with that of the expert panel on planning reform, what these regulations mean for residential development, how statutory time frames will be measured, and the role of the Coordinator-General in the rezoning of land.
Local government is concerned about the financial impact of these regulations on councils that would ordinarily have received the total assessment fees for these development and now receive no fee at all. I have heard anecdotal evidence that some councils are losing some $40,000 or $50,000 a year by their not receiving those fees themselves. This is despite the fact that the councils are still required to undertake some level of assessment in order to provide documents to DAC and still retain responsibility for the ongoing inspection and monitoring of the development. The LGA has also provided feedback that this significant cost must now be subsidised by their ratepayers.
Mr Steven Griffiths has met with various other stakeholders, including Community Alliance SA, the National Trust, the Conservation Council of South Australia and the South Australian Council of Social Services. They raised issues, including that the mechanism for major projects already exists within existing legislation, discretion is coming into the planning process by providing the Coordinator-General with such powers; that the $3 million threshold is highly manipulative (for instance, a rather large home in a high-value suburb) and, as I have mentioned before, the criteria is unclear and state heritage is a loser in the $3 million assessment process (listings can be manipulated), and it is unreasonable that the government would implement changes prior to the final report of the expert panel being released, which is due, I think, in December some time.